by Christine Zimmerman
What do I do?
And I travel. And I work. And cook. And eat. And teach. And fail. And laugh. And write. And sometimes run. And sometimes not. And I explore. And get lost. Very often. And also trip. And I love. And create. And I procrastinate, unfortunately, much more than I should.
Oh, and I read.
And recently I read a book entitled The Geography of Bliss and I want to tell you a little something about it. No, it is not a self-help read, although maybe, in a way, I suppose it is. The book follows NPR correspondent Eric Weiner as he travels the world in search of the happiest place on Earth. Despite the adage, I often judge books by their covers, and the world map folded into a paper airplane ready to launch, pictured on the front of this memoir, drew me immediately to the outdoor sale rack of a locally-owned bookshop. I have a small but aggressive strand of wanderlust, and when I can’t be traipsing the globe, displacing myself into different landscapes and cultures, I enjoy living vicariously-- this time, through self-proclaimed grump Eric Weiner.
The book was really good; you should read it! But, I digress. As he travels from one country to the next, West to East and back again, Weiner explores positive psychology from all angles and landscapes—unpacking the different ways we define happiness and seek it; how we quantify it, and how it manifests in ways beyond measure. In addressing some of these differences, he notes that each country has a “cocktail party question”—a simple, one-sentence query which, based on that population’s priorities and interests “unlocks a motherlode of information about the person you’ve just met.” In Switzerland, he observes, it is “where [what town] are you from?” In Britain, “What school did you attend?” I think in Ecuador the question would probably be “What do your parents do for a living?” and in Thailand, perhaps “How much money do you make?” or “Can you eat spicy?”
Take any or all of these with a grain of salt, of course, but I really think that Weiner may have hit the nail on the head for the good ole U.S. of A:
What do you do?
Truly. Have you noticed? This itty bitty sentence-- these four, one-syllable words, strung together with upward inflection-- are inserted into nearly every new encounter. I know what you’re thinking-- harmless, right? Perhaps, but speaking as someone who is in a state of professional “transition” (as I like to call it), and was un[der]employed for the better part of last year, let me tell you that I have developed a strong aversion to the cocktail party question. What do I do? Is this what I want to be doing? Does it bring me pride? Fulfillment? Self-worth? Is what I do to pay (or not) the bills really what makes me “me”? I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty, but suffice it to say that, for me, 2013 was largely a minor existential crisis.
So what does this disjointed mess of a blog post have to do with OnStage Dance Company?
I danced my entire life—from “animal crackers in my soup” at age three, up through college, after which point other goals, adventures, jobs, passions, pursuits, and probably excuses let the performance-based dance that I love fall to the wayside. I don’t regret any of these goals, adventures, jobs, ect. The past five years have been challenging and remarkable. But dancing is part of the very fibers of who I am.
I’ve never been the best dancer in any group of which I’ve ever been a part; my technique certainly leaves plenty to be desired. But when people see me dancing, I believe that they can see my love for it. I believe that this love shines out my fingertips and toes and elbows and eyeballs, and that they understand something that is more fundamental to who I am than waiting tables or answering telephones could ever be. Dance is expression in its most rudimentary form—requiring no tools, no instruments outside from your own body and mind. It is celebratory. It is poetic. It is collaborative and it is athletic. It is the most satisfying mix of creativity and endorphins.
Dancing again, for the first time in years, was part of an effort to shift my focus from what I did not know to what I do. I’m still searching for a better sense of geography-- of my own place and purpose in this world-- but in the meantime I’ve managed to accept this uncertainty and turn toward those things that I know bring me happiness. Dancing with OnStage this past season was an opportunity to stretch my body and soul in a way I hadn’t in some time, and to meet a wonderful community of people who share that passion. Dancing and friends. These are things that make sense to me. These are things that bring me bliss.
I know that this story is not unique. I know that these are the questions of many-a-20-something-year-old, and it is unnerving, though also strangely comforting, to realize that these also may be the same questions of so many older and wiser than me. For the time being, I am following my bliss, and I think that that is a good strategy. Even as the uncertainty moves aside to make way for stronger, clearer goals, I hope to always remain committed to a more holistic definition of “self” than what I do to pay the bills.
I’ve never been a whiz at math, but I do know that the sum is always greater than its parts, and I believe that I am greater for the arts.
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